Brain Reacts Differently to Artwork and Real-life Images

Health In Focus   - G J E 4
  • Neuroscience-based studies indicate that our brain responds differently to situations when we are told beforehand about the type of situation
  • This reaction controls our emotional response to the particular situation
  • Researchers have found that people tend to appreciate an image more if they are told that it is a work of art than if when told that it is a real-life situation
Ever wondered how we can appreciate an abstract painting in an art gallery? Or why we cannot appreciate a toddler's scribbling on the wall? Neuroscience researchers probably have the answer - if we are told that an image is a work of art, the way we react to it changes and we tend to appreciate it.
Brain Reacts Differently to Artwork and Real-life Images

Sounds complex, doesn't it? Well, anything to do with the central nervous system is complex. Studies on the brain have shown that the brain is capable of changing our emotions depending on the context. If we are told before a situation about its type, for example if it is a fact or a fiction, our reaction to the situation changes accordingly.

‘Beauty lies in the eye - or the brain - of the beholder.’
Researchers from the Erasmus University in Rotterdam conducted an experiment on student volunteers. Twenty-four students were shown several pictures, some of which were pleasant, while others were unpleasant. They were told beforehand whether they were real-life photographs or works of arts. Their brain electrical activity was recorded with the help of an instrument called an electroencephalogram (EEG), in which a brain signal called late positive potential (LPP) was measured. At the end of the experiment, the volunteers were asked to rate the images in terms of likeability and attractiveness. A follow-up experiment was also conducted, in which researchers added another set of images consisting of scenes of movies or documentaries which were classified as fiction.

The researchers found that:
  • The amplitude of the LPP brain signal was greater when the volunteers were told that the image was a real-life image than when they were told that it was a work of art.
  • The volunteers also gave higher ratings for works of art in terms of likeability as compared to real images.
  • The effect of the brain on the emotional response was attenuated with the introduction of the third set of images.
Thus, the researchers feel that our brain changes our emotional and behavioral responses on being informed in advance whether an image is a work of art or not. When we perceive something as artwork, our emotional responses are subdued and we can appreciate the image from an artistic perspective.

  1. Noah N.N. Van Dongen et al. Implicit emotion regulation in the context of viewing artworks: ERP evidence in response to pleasant and unpleasant pictures. Brain and Cognition 107 (2016), 48-54. doi 0.1016/j.bandc.2016.06.003.
  2. N. Van Dongen, J.W. Van Strie, K. Dijkstra. Implicit emotion regulation while viewing fictive and real pictures: event related potential evidence in response to affective pictures. Poster presented at The European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP), Vienna September 2016.
Source: Medindia

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